STARTUP SPOTLIGHT 

Austin startup Kilroy Blockchain builds program to help the blind and visually impaired  

Posted November 29th, 2017

Karen Kilroy has been programming software for much of her 55 years of life. It’s something she says she believes she was born to do. But she’s just now seeing how far her knowledge can reach. 

About a year ago, Kilroy launched Kilroy Blockchain, an Austin-based startup that develops connectivity technology that can help automate companies’ required reporting, but that has also led to a phone application that helps blind and visually impaired people to better understand what’s around them. 

Through her company’s innovation, Kilroy is already gaining notoriety, with one of her software projects having recently been named as a finalists in IBM’s international Watson Build Challenge, a competition to build software programs that use Watson’s application programming interface.

“I’ve been freelancing in technology since I was old enough to work,” Kilroy said. “During the last 15 or 16 months, I’ve been very interested in (connectivity technology) and artificial intelligence. I started attending meetups at Capital Factory, and it just pulled me in. We’ve been working to solve some of the issues with (connectivity technology).”

The “blockchain” in Kilroy’s company name represents a technology that is used to help computers record information that cannot easily be altered . Blockchain is often associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Kilroy’s company is most interested in working with industries that are regulated, such as banking,  to help make their reporting systems more automated and connected through blockchain, artificial intelligence and other software applications, with the goal being to eliminate old systems like faxing. Kilroy said her company is in the process of forming partners with companies in several industries.

In the meantime, Kilroy Blockchain has also worked on unusual projects that use the same technology. 

The most notable has been the firm’s development of Riley, a phone application that uses AI to help the blind and visually impaired. The application is able to vocally describe what is in front of a user after the user takes a photo of the scene, or it can describe the overall location where a user is based on geographic information it collects. Riley was one of eight finalists in IBM’s challenge.

Kilroy was inspired to build the program after she volunteered at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She said the application is scheduled to be released to the public in December.

blackzheep - stock.adobe.comKilroy Blockchain's Riley application.

Beyond helping blind and visually impaired people, Kilroy said Riley was also a way for her company to test some technology that could be important to the blockchain tools its trying to promote.

"The tech that we're developing for Riley is cutting edge artificial intelligence," Kilroy said. "We can re-purpose it for other industries." 

Kilroy moved to Austin from her native Akron, Ohio, about five years ago because she wanted to be a part of the city’s tech culture. 

“I’ve been in this business so long and seen so many explosions of tech come and go, but the things we are about to see with augmented reality and automation are coming really fast,” Kilroy said. “I have to step forward as a leader because it’s people like me that should be responsible for the future.”

What they do:

Kilroy Blockchain develops connectivity software that helps automate the recording of sensitive information through various software applications. The company aims to use AI to help create automated systems for industries that are regulated by the U.S. government and have to report sensitive information.

Who they are:

Karen Kilroy, CEO of Kilroy Blockchain, is a longtime software developer who has mostly worked as a freelance technology consultant but also held jobs for companies such as Cigna. She operates her firm alongside colleagues Deepak Bhatta, chief technology officer, Lynn Riley, chief information officer and Kara Williams, chief operations officer. 

Investment:

Kilroy Blockchain has not yet received outside investment. Kilroy said she has invested about $30,000 to start the company. 

Biggest challenge: 

Choosing which AI problems to help solve, Kilroy said. With the fast development of AI, Kilroy said there are many options, so the challenge is in finding a focus.

“There are so many opportunities for getting involved,” Kilroy said. “I’m where I needed to be to be involved. This is an atmosphere that is helping me to mature as a technologist.”

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